Background and purpose: Older adults have the highest risks of stroke and the lowest physical activity levels. It is important to quantify how walking (the predominant form of physical activity in older age) is associated with stroke.
Methods: A total of 4252 men from a UK population-based cohort reported usual physical activity (regular walking, cycling, recreational activity, and sport) in 1998 to 2000. Nurses took fasting blood samples and made anthropometric measurements.
Results: Among 3435 ambulatory men free from cardiovascular disease and heart failure in 1998 to 2000, 195 first strokes occurred during 11-year follow-up. Men walked a median of 7 (interquartile range, 3-12) hours/wk; walking more hours was associated with lower heart rate, D-dimer, and higher forced expiratory volume in 1 second. Compared with men walking 0 to 3 hours/wk, men walking 4 to 7, 8 to 14, 15 to 21, and >22 hours had age- and region-adjusted hazard ratios (95% confidence intervals) for stroke of 0.89 (0.60-1.31), 0.63 (0.40-1.00), 0.68 (0.35-1.32), and 0.36 (0.14-0.91), respectively, P (trend)=0.006. Hazard ratios were somewhat attenuated by adjustment for established and novel risk markers (inflammatory and hemostatic markers and cardiac function [N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide]) and walking pace, but linear trends remained. There was little evidence for a dose-response relationship between walking pace and stroke; comparing average pace or faster to a baseline of slow pace, the hazard ratio for stroke was 0.65 (95% confidence interval, 0.44-0.97), which was fully mediated by time spent walking.
Conclusions: Time spent walking was associated with reduced risk of onset of stroke in dose-response fashion, independent of walking pace. Walking could form an important part of stroke-prevention strategies in older people.
Keywords: aged; cohort analysis; motor activity; pace; stroke; walking.